Life comes with no guarantees

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

A somewhat chance encounter with long lost friends is always a treat, especially when you hold those you have not seen in a long time in high regard. Such was the case for me last weekend.

Last Friday I received a call from an old friend I keep in contact with via the phone, but had not laid eyes on for around 25 years. He wanted to know if I had time to join him and another friend I had not seen for around 35 years for lunch the next day.

I had lots of things I was supposed to do Saturday, so I told the caller I was not sure if I could, but to give me a call when they were headed toward Hillsboro and I’d see how the day was unfolding.

As things turned out – largely due to Friday’s storm – my responsibilities for early Saturday were canceled. So, when I received that reminder call, I had no obligations. Sometimes, it seems, things work out like they were meant to be.

The guy I keep in contact with on the phone is originally from Fayetteville and now lives in the Williamsburg area. The other guy is originally from Georgetown, lived in the Cleveland area for several years, but recently moved to the Mason area. Back in the day, the three of us played basketball for Southern State. It was the winter of 1980-81, my sophomore year in college and both their freshmen years.

The college had canceled its official basketball team after the previous season, so when the next year rolled around the athletic director asked some of us if we’d like to put a team together. And we did. The AD served as our coach. We practiced a couple times a week and played in “independent,” or old men’s, tournaments in places like Blue Creek, Seaman and the like. We were not outstanding by any stretch of the imagination, but we had a lot of fun.

Through the guy from Fayetteville, I have somewhat kept tabs on the guy from Georgetown, but had not seen him since probably a year after we played basketball together.

When they pulled into my driveway Saturday, it felt like three-plus decades temporarily faded away. Oh, we have all put on a few pounds and such, but the conversation picked up like it was 1981 all over again.

We decided to go have lunch at the Rustic Cabin, a restaurant that another Southern State buddy owns on North Shore Drive in the Rocky Fork Lake area. We had all lost track of him to one degree or another, too. The food was great, but the visit was even better.

After lunch the three of us headed back to my house where we shot the breeze for another hour or so, and shared lots of memories and laughs, before they headed back down the road. But before they left we made a deal – it will not be so long before we see each other again. Because if we wait another 35 years to get together, we’ll be like 90 and, well, you get the picture.

What made it all so surreal was an email I received at work this Tuesday. It was an obituary for Bob Patton. Now, I did not know Bob, a longtime local educator and the unofficial historian of the Marshall area, all that well. But just the week before I had been working with Bob on a story about the 1928 Marshall High School basketball team that won the Class “B” state championship. Because Marshall is the only team in Highland County to ever win a state championship, it was being inducted into The Times-Gazette Highland County Athletic Hall of Fame.

When I came to work last Friday – the same day the old buddy from Fayetteville called me – there was a packet on my desk containing information and photos of the 1927 and 1928 Marshall basketball teams. I also had a voice mail from Bob’s son, Eric, explaining that Bob had wanted to make sure I had the information. He said Bob had been confused for a couple days, they were not sure what was wrong, and they were taking him to the hospital.

Bob died the next day. But evidently, the day before he died, Bob took time to make sure his son delivered the packet to me, because he had told me he would help me however he could.

If that doesn’t tell you something about Bob Patton’s character, I don’t know what would.

Little did I know that the same day I was running around with my old buddies, Bob took his last breaths.

The point of it all is this: Life comes with no guarantees. So if some good ole buddies you have not laid eyes on for decades give you a call and want to go out for lunch, just do it. Drop whatever you have planned and go.

You never know when you might get another chance. And if you’re lucky like me, you just might feel decades peel away and have a hoot.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist